10 Best Seafood Restaurants in Panama City Beach
There’s no denying it. Panama City Beach is a beautiful place to soak up some rays and play in the water (especially, if you like your sands powdery white and your water translucent green—wait…does anyone, not like those?!). But the coast and built-in pleasures of the Emerald Coast are only the beginning of the scrumptiousness. There’s seafood. Lots of it—fresh-caught in the Gulf, creatively prepped and served up with a flavor you can’t even imagine until it lands on your tongue. We’ve rounded up the places everyone oohs and aahs about, so you can chime in with your own raves. We suggest giving them all a shot and then giving Insta your best shots. Are those double taps we hear in the distance?
Schooners Last Local Beach Club
What can we say? Schooners is straight-up delicious—at lunch AND dinner. And you’ll be relishing your Beach Party (fried Mahi, oysters and jumbo shrimp), Gulf Fresh Grouper sandwich, Shrimp & Grits or Seared Ahi Tuna Steak right at the edge of a broad swath of sugary white sand, looking out over the Gulf. With maybe a Schooners Specialty drink in hand like, say, a Sunset Splash (raspberry vodka, peach schnapps, mango, pineapple and orange juice with a splash of sweet and sour—‘cause, well, who doesn’t want a little sweet and sour mixed into their tropical setting?) ‘Course, the menu features plenty of other options, too. But there’s one standout ingredient in every single one of them: freshness. And everything is served against a live music backdrop. So come for that, too—the performers are awesome!
A 2020 Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator gives Capt. Anderson’s, a Panama City Beach fixture since 1953, a deep claim to fame—the award has only been bestowed on 1,387 other restaurants. But let’s break down the excellence a bit: the land cuisine part of their extensive menu is filled with numerous dishes to savor, but the seafood portion of the menu, aptly called the “Art of Seafood,” reflects amazing ‘natural goodness.’ Meaning, what’s left out is just as critical as what’s left in.
Following the cooking methods of coastal Greece where the owner grew up, Capt. Anderson’s prepares much of the seafood over real hardwood coals with just a dash of olive oil and lemon, which means the natural flavors reign—you won’t find any smothering sauces here. Breathe in the heady scents of those few ingredients along with the aroma of fresh-baked bread; sample the Captain’s Classics, such as Capt. Anderson’s Famous Grilled Bay Shrimp and Scamp or Grouper Imperial with fresh Lump Blue Crab Meat; sip a great wine from their sizable list; then, report back on your journey to culinary paradise. BTW, they also have a fresh seafood market and sell their own classics-filled cookbooks and seasonings to help you make the most of your own dishes back home.
The Intracoastal Waterway near the Beaches in West Bay is home to Boon Docks, where you can veer from the Gulf beaches and join in-the-know locals in experiencing a very different kind of water-based landmark. What do they know, you might ask? Well, just how good this chill place really is. Boon Docks’ seafood is beyond—in no small part ‘cause of their own spice and breading blends that lend new meaning to ‘grilled’ and ‘fried.’ And, in large part, ‘cause the seafood they serve is caught by local fishermen, who also eat here often (these folks know from fresh!).
The setting couldn’t be more natural and wild—when you’re inside, large windows that wrap the fish shack-like structure give you a view of shorebirds and fish by the dock. And when you’re outside, you’ll be able to send your gaze out into the distance, over the water, and maybe spot dolphins, gators, ducks, and geese.
Dig into the Boat Trash, a plate brimming with shrimp, oysters, grouper, and devil crab; a catfish or shrimp Po Bo sandwich; an order of grilled bay scallops; and fried pickles…. See you there.
Capt. Jack’s Family Buffet
Capt. Jack’s Family Buffet’s numbers are a surefire recipe for success: two Panama City Beach locations (Thomas Drive and Front Beach Road) serving a buffet dinner; three meals served Fri.-Sun. at the Front Beach restaurant; a 21-year history; and an endless amount of seafood.
Though it goes well beyond seafood (read: steak, chicken, a 38-item salad bar, and a huge dessert bar), the dinner buffet offers up heaps of crab legs, broiled shrimp, fish of the day, scallops, and crawfish (when available). The weekend breakfast and lunch buffets at the Front Beach location are all you can eat. The breakfast buffet features classic favorites, from eggs and sausage to waffles and pancakes. And the lunch buffet serves up salad; fresh veggies; veal; chicken; steak; spaghetti; fried, baked and grilled fish; and plenty more. We know. Sounds like we’re exaggerating. But it’s all true. And yummy!
Dirty Dick’s Crab House
You won’t find fish that’s been frozen at Dirty Dick’s Crab House. Ever. The seafood here is fresh, infused with spunky New Orleans flair, and prepared on-site. The main menu (there’s also an oyster bar menu—may we suggest a flight?) and takeout menu bear testimony to the characteristic Cajun spin with items like the Homemade Boudin Balls appetizer, the Low Country Boil side, and the Creole Shrimp & Grits entrée. Want a whole mess of Louisiana-style seafood? Go for the Seafood Bordelaise featuring sautéed grouper strips, ocean scallops, jumbo shrimp, garlic, butter, olive oil, sautéed tomatoes, green onions, lemon, parsley, white wine, parmesan cheese, and red chili flakes. Wash it all down with a Bayou Hurricane or another creative cocktail from their long list and top your meal off with the award-winning White Chocolate Bread Pudding.
Please. And thank you.
If ‘variety is the spice of life,’ at Hammerhead Fred’s it’s the secret spice of the fresh seafood menu. They serve up quite a wide range of dishes (Hammertizers, aka appetizers, like Chicken & Sausage Gumbo; salads; raw, baked, and grilled oysters; baskets; sandwiches; Po Boys; and signature and entrée dishes), many of which are spiked with their signature Cajun flavors.
Order Hammers Favorite “Lick Your Eyebrows Jambalaya, a Wahoo Taco (it won 2019 Best Fish Taco in the Grand Lagoon) or a platter of New Orleans-style Char-grilled Oysters on the Half Shell (with their garlic-butter-romano cheese sauce topping). Tempting doesn’t begin to describe the menu, but the live music is just as alluring. Oh, and the 50 beers on tap, too.
Runaway Island Beach Bar & Grill
Run don’t walk to Runaway Island for two whole floors, plus a huge outdoor deck (complete with a boardwalk that leads down to the sand and Gulf waters), of fresh seafood feasting. The menu dishes are served up with nightly live entertainment that’ll have you rockin’ in your seat as you eat and sip. Indulge freely!
Ordering tips: Go for Boudreaux’s Chowder, Runaway Taco with blackened fish, and Creole Redfish (with jumbo shrimp and a crawfish cream sauce)? If you need some extra inspiration—though we can’t imagine why you would—check out their webcam, aimed at the outdoor deck and the Gulf beyond. That knockout view will remind you of where the meals here come from (local waters) and the deep relaxation response that awaits you waterside, in the warmth.
The Wicked Wheel’s Fried Chicken may have been voted Best of Bay five years running, but the Nola Thin-Cut Fried Catfish here is every bit as good—crispy outside, juicy inside. This is seafood with a deep southern spin (read: plenty of kick), and the sides (collard greens, cheese grits, fried okra, etc.) point to the same culinary traditions. Just know, there’s lots more where that delectable catfish dish comes from, e.g., Blackened or Jerked Gulf Shrimp, grilled or fried; and a flaky Fried Flounder Sandwich.
Bring the whole family for lunch and dinner—there’s something here for every age and taste, including meat- and chicken-based options. The custom motorbike and classic car decor here are super fun, too—the kids will love sitting on the bikes.
Buy a draft beer on a Thursday (Pint Day at Wicked Wheel) and you’ll get a FREE souvenir pint glass featuring some very cool graphics. That sweet art also extends to a whole range of products sold in the Wicked Wheel shop—T-shirts, hoodies, tank tops, hats, and more.
The Grand Marlin
A Caribbean-style seafood restaurant and oyster bar, The Grand Marlin, has garnered a bunch of accolades from the likes of Wine Spectator, TripAdvisor, and Open Table for its great food and drink, and lively atmosphere. Located on Grand Lagoon at the Lighthouse Marina, the sunset and twinkly Panama City Beach and marina views (watch the boats come and go) here couldn’t be any more riveting.
As for the fresh Gulf seafood menu (emphasis on local ingredients)—everything on it is tempting but the daily specials and the shucked-to-order oysters at the oyster bar are certifiably off the hook. The brunch menu offers up an irresistible Crab Cake Benedict. And among the dinner menu entrees, the Grouper Piccata (parmesan crust—yum!) and Cioppino beckon with power.
The second floor holds The North Drop Bar. Order a signature cocktail (the Dirty Blue Martini and Mandarin Mango Mojito are two that will def fit the bill) and chill in the bar’s serene Lagoon atmosphere. Flip flops allowed any time of day—the spot may be upscale, but it’s also the definition of cas’.
Pineapple Willy’s is known for great seafood, ribs, live music, and cocktails—and a historic pier that juts out into the Gulf. Dining on that pier is a Panama City Beach must-do—it truly has one of the best water views anywhere. Soak it in.
You’ll also want to savor what comes out of those waters. The Premium Grilled Gulf Grouper and Mahi Mahi are just two of the restaurant’s standout seafood dishes. The fried or grilled shrimp, or creamy shrimp and grits (made with smoked Gouda and cheddar cheeses) are other sure bets. A Fat Tuesday Daiquiri or cold beer makes for a perfect meal companion along with the frequent live shows. The Gulf puts on never-ending nature shows (check out the Willy’s Live Beach Cams to see what we mean), but the manmade ones—the kinds the live musicians put on—are also fire. Don’t miss them!